The Very First Starbucks StoreJul 20th, 2010 | By Lindsay | Category: This and That
While this probably goes without saying, the location that I was most excited about stalking while vacationing in Seattle this past May was the very first Starbucks store at Pike Place Market. As I’ve mentioned countless times in the past – and as anyone who knows me even slightly well can attest to – I am an absolute Starbucks fiend! I visit my local branch at least twice a day and am on first name basis with all of the baristas who work there. Heck, some of them even read my blog! So, when it was decided that the Grim Cheaper and I would be taking a mini-vacay to the Pacific Northwest to do some stalking and visit with our friends Kerry and Jim, I let it be known right away that there was absolutely no way I was leaving town without seeing the very first Starbucks store in person. And, let me tell you, I could NOT have been more excited about it. On the morning we were scheduled to stalk the store, my fiancé woke me and said, “Are you ready to visit your Mecca? Be sure to bring along a prayer rug or something so that you can pay your respects while there.” All joking aside, though, it really was a very special pilgrimage for me as I had always promised myself that one day I would get to Seattle so that I could stalk the store that started it all.
In the interest of integrity, though, I should mention here that the store which actually started it all is no longer standing and that the Pike Place Starbucks, which is generally touted as being the company’s first location, was actually the chain’s fourth. Confused? I’ll see if I can break it down. A couple of years ago I read a FASCINATING book by Taylor Clark called Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture. Besides sharing interesting tidbits, like the fact that “coffee is the second-most-traded physical commodity in the world” (oil being the first), the book chronicles the long and storied history of the now-ubiquitous coffee giant. The first Starbucks outlet was actually opened by three men – history teacher Zev Siegl, Boeing programmer Jerry Baldwin, and writer Gordon Bowker – on March 29, 1971 in Downtown Seattle’s Harbor Heights building, which used to be located at 2000 Western Avenue. And while the store did offer free drip coffee samples, the place was not actually a cafe, but a walk-up wholesale coffee bean vendor. There were no espresso machines, no comfy couches on which to linger, no pastries or desserts on offer in glass cases, and no music playing on the stereo. But even without all the extras, Starbucks was a success. By the time the owners of the Harbor Heights building decided to raze the property in 1974 (the building that currently stands on that site is pictured above), Starbucks had already opened two additional sister stores.
With their current location facing demolition, the original Starbucks store moved a few doors down to 1912 Pike Place (pictured above), making the first store the company’s fourth. I know, I know, it’s confusing. “Starbucked” author Clark explains it best: “The rundown building that once housed the first store was knocked down in 1974, so they built a new one a couple of blocks away, right across from the public market. But in the meantime, the three founders had opened new stores near the University of Washington and on Capital Hill in 1972 and 1973 – making what’s now called the “original” the fourth store by chronology.” Ironic, huh? Crazier still is the fact that Starbucks mega-mogul Howard Schultz didn’t come into the picture until 1981. He was working as a housewares salesman in New York at the time and had noticed that one of his customers, a tiny coffee chain in Seattle, was selling more of a certain kind of drip coffeemaker than Macy’s! He flew out to the Pacific Northwest to learn more about the then-unknown coffee company and was immediately taken with it. A year later, he left Manhattan and moved to Seattle in order to go to work for the small chain. The rest, as they say, is history.
It’s amazing to think that a chain that currently boasts 17,743 different stores in more than 50 countries (there’s even a branch on the Great Wall of China! – not kidding!) started out as one tiny, little storefront in Seattle. Thankfully, that storefront has been left largely unaltered over the past 36 years and looks pretty much exactly like it did back in 1974 when it first opened. As Clark points out in his book, though, with its plank-wood flooring and weathered wooden countertops, the store more closely resembles a Peet’s Coffee shop than it does a Starbucks. There’s a reason for that, though. Dutch coffee roaster Alfred Peet, founder of Peet’s Coffee Company, actually helped Siegl, Baldwin, and Bowker get started in the business, and they modeled their first location after the original Peet’s store in Berkeley, California. I cannot even express how happy I am that the original store has been left untouched and was not remodeled to fit the cookie-cutter Starbucks mold over the years.
The Pike Place Starbucks also continues to use the chain’s original logo – that of a split-tailed mermaid with bared breasts, encircled by the words “Starbucks – Coffee, Tea, Spices” – an image which was deemed too risqué when the company went corporate.
To commemorate the store’s historical significance, there is also a brass post which reads “First Starbucks Store, Established 1971” on display at the front entrance. Love it! I wish they had a post like this on display at movie locations, as well!
And there’s even a map on the wall of all of the Starbucks locations worldwide.
But besides being the most unique-looking of all of the Starbucks stores, the Pike Place location is also the only one in North America which still hand-pulls its espresso shots, making for a more authentic coffee experience. (The other stores switched to automated espresso machines a few years back.) The Grim Cheaper was especially enthralled with watching the baristas craft the espresso by hand and took countless photographs of them. All of the baristas were also extremely friendly and knowledgeable about Starbucks – and coffee in general – which I absolutely LOVED. It was fascinating to speak with them about the history of the store and the company.
I absolutely cannot tell you how cool it was to be standing there ordering an iced latte at the very Starbucks store which started it all – definitely a moment I will never forget! And I have to say that even though the place was jam-packed with people, my drink was made in record time! I honestly cannot recommend stalking the first Starbucks enough! For those who don’t want to wade through the hordes of stalkers there, though, there is – of course – another Starbucks store located just around the corner from this one.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: The first Starbucks store is located at 1912 Pike Place in Seattle. The location of the former Harbor Heights building, which housed the very first Starbucks store but has long since been torn down, can be found at 2000 Western Avenue.